It’s almost time. The 2018 NHL Draft will begin this Friday (the first round is Friday, the latter rounds will be Saturday) and given that we’ve already seen a big trade go down in Max Domi/Alex Galchenyuk, all the rumblings at the trade deadline about players the Rangers may/may not be trying to move (Mats Zuccarello being the most notable one). Judging from the general vibes emanating from the Rangers front office in the post-Letter landscape, well, we’re likely in for a wild ride. It’s safe to say that more or less anything could happen, especially if, as often happens, other teams do wild and crazy crap – the Rangers will surely either attempt to anticipate the maneuvers and machinations of rival GMs or at the very least react accordingly. We’re in for a wild ride.
All of this is quite exciting, at least in a vacuum. If Jeff Gorton is smart we’ll be walking away with a Quinn Hughes, Oliver Wahlstrom type, and, in typical Rangers fashion, a late-round steal (there’s always at least one, because Gordie Clark sure knows how to pick ’em). With all of the high-quality talent in this draft we’ll likely be seeing new faces much sooner than later, which means new moments of excitement, new stories to tell, new experiences to share with our friends and family. Sounds good, no?
Well, yes and no, actually. Because these changes don’t come in a vacuum – for every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction, more or less, which means that for all of the positive changes that will occur in the coming weeks like fancy new prospects, Ilya Kovalchuk potentially, etc, we’re likely to see some familiar faces departing. I know we already had that happen this last trade deadline, and we’ve become accustomed to it in the past with the Callahan trade, the Brassard/Zibanejad swap, and so on, but this feels different. Everyone is on the table, at least in theory, and the likeliest candidate to be moved is Zucc. I probably don’t need to elaborate any further – suffice to say that it’s going to hurt to see him go.
All of this brings up the emotional paradox of this present draft week, which I think is worth unpacking a little bit, in the hopes that maybe it helps us all come to terms with it (maybe I’m just doing this for myself, in which case thanks for listening, thanks for understanding). I’ve touched on this before with regards to the changes that a team undergoes throughout any kind of roster shift, but I think it’s worth conceptualizing this in moments.
Whether you’re looking at it in a purely individualistic sense (moments of personal excitement) or a more group-oriented way (shared experiences among those with whom you’re close), the vast majority of trades in our present-day NHL involve trading moments. In 99% of deals you’re either gaining futures for current assets or vice versa (contrast this with “hockey trades” that happen infrequently and usually become fairly lopsided fairly quickly with hindsight). This ends up meaning that you’re trading those moments, those big goals, exciting scoring chances that may or may not wind up in the back of the next, joyful celebrations, and playoff runs, for the possibility of more of them down the road, with the underlying implication that you’re gaining more than you’re losing.
This way of looking at things is a bit grim, the notion is that your present players are declining assets and that there’s a diminishing return on what they can give you, but the aging curve in hockey as in life is a bit grim. It can also be deeply frustrating if you happen to take the stance that those pieces you’ve traded aren’t depreciating assets, and that you could continue to have those moments at a potentially higher rate even than you could with whatever future Rangers we’ve just acquired. Especially given the way we attach ourselves to not only these moments of joy but the people who give them to us, it all becomes quite fraught.
That’s just one way of looking at things of course, and you can start from these same premises and wind up at a less morose destination. The big thing this sadness ignores of course is that the departure of current players and the severing of any potential happiness they might bring us doesn’t invalidate what they already have given us. Even if Zucc leaves the Rangers as he very well may, we’ll still always have those good times he gave us. The slick passes and unending determination to make a play will always be with us – we just won’t see more of it from him in the future, at least not in blue. This is still dissatisfying, but the pain dulls when we cease to privilege the future over the past. Equalizing the scales a bit brings something of an inner peace in that whatever loss we may feel is mitigated by an appreciation of the permanence of the past.
No one can take what Zucc so joyfully gave us, and there’s a special pleasure in knowing we saw his absolute best as a player. Coupled with the assurance (although I guess this all depends on how much faith you place in Jeff Gorton and his braintrust, because we could always end up in a dreadful Dylan McIlrath situation) that we’re going to soon see new moments of tension and release, new “moments” from players who we haven’t met yet but will have the privilege of getting to know, and the plane of time levels off a bit. The paradox still remains, and in some ways it still aches, but it becomes less lopsided and more balanced. At this point we’re left with the broad feeling that it’s going to be ok.
Maybe this is all just navel gazing, but I think it’s worthwhile on some level. Sports can bring about complicated emotions, and given the general predominance of a macho mindset that closes off most avenues of introspection, it’s not such a bad thing to try and understand how and why we’re feeling a certain way with the hopes that understanding yields some peace and perspective.
Draft week is sure to be a doozy, especially in our present Rangers moment, but we can make it through all of this together. We may not be ready to say goodbye, we may never be, but at least we can sow the seeds of a healthy path forward. To say that hockey has taught me a lot about understanding and coming to terms with the world would be an understatement – I hope it can bring you all the same understanding too. Happy Fathers’ Day too, to all those who are celebrating and especially to those remembering lost loved ones. We’re all in this together, on every level."The Emotional Paradox of Draft Week",